“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls- we invite you to turn your attention to the sky high above Sleeping Beauty Castle. Where, if you believe and wish hard enough, you too will see the magic of Tinkerbell as she lights this evening’s performance of Fantasy in the Sky!”
Beginning in 1958, the skies above DISNEYLAND would brighten each summer night at 9:30PM with what Walt Disney referred to as a ‘kiss goodnight’- the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks. Mr. Disney came up with the idea of having a nightly fireworks show as a way to give his guests a ‘kiss goodnight,’ a special gift from him to thank them for spending their day at his Magic Kingdom. An attempt to recreate the title sequence from the DISNEYLAND television show, the fireworks featured a retired circus aerialist who flew above the castle as Tinkerbell.
The Fantasy in the Sky fireworks show would last for over forty years, finally getting replaced in 2000 by Believe… There’s Magic in the Stars.
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The Disney Vacation Club is Disney’s version of a timeshare program. It was started in Florida as a way for the company to quickly finance hotels after it realized that demand far outstripped its supply of rooms. In 2010, the Disney Vacation Club finally opened its first West Coast operation at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel.
Offering wondrous views of Disney California Adventure, the exclusive rooms were an instant hit with Disney guests, quickly selling out.
The hotel wing wasn’t originally supposed to be Disney Vacation Club’s first west coast location. In the mid 1990’s, Disney had announced that its first west coast DVC Hotel would be Disney’s Newport Coast Hotel, located on a scenic cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Newport Beach.
It would have been a marvelous property located just a few miles south of DISNEYLAND. Despite its planned proximity to DISNEYLAND, the company considered it to be a freestanding Resort, the third such resort built after Disney’s Vero Beach and Disney’s Hilton Head resorts. The two freestanding resorts proved to be difficult to sell. The company had to offer discounts and heavily promote the fact that ownership points purchased at the two locations could be used for stays at DISNEYLAND and Walt Disney World resorts. Despite Newport Beach’s nicer location and premium views, Disney grew skittish about opening up freestanding resorts. The Newport Beach property was sold to Marriott Hotels, who opened up Marriott’s Newport Coast Hotel.
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Over the years, Walt Disney and his imagineers have had many dreams. Most of those dreams never made the leap from drawing board to reality. Nowadays, DISNEYLAND typically tries to keep a lid on its future plans, though occasionally word of a future project slips out. By the time the park puts up a sign announcing a project inside the theme park, it is usually because the project has already been approved and broken ground. That wasn’t always the case.
Guests who purchased souvenir maps in the late 1950’s saw plans for “Liberty Street”, an entirely new land that would be built between Main Street and Tomorrowland. Of course, the project was never built for various reasons, but one could forgive Disney for inserting an unapproved future project on a souvenir map, right? Certainly they wouldn’t promote such a thing inside the park, right? Well they totally did.
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The big project that excited Walt Disney the most in the mid-1960’s was his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow- EPCOT. EPCOT was not a theme park or a normal subdivision- it was supposed to be a real, living city. “Disneyland East”, as he called it, would be a copy of his original DISNEYLAND, used as a “weenie” to attract East Coast residents to Florida so that he could show them EPCOT.
Sadly, Mr. Disney’s EPCOT would never get built. His brother Roy was never a fan of the project and it was the first thing Roy canceled after Walt’s death. “Walt Disney World” would be built to Roy’s specifications, not Walt’s.
EPCOT would be forgotten by the company, but not the guests. Guests were constantly barraging guest services at Florida’s Magic Kingdom Park with complaints about the absence of EPCOT. Luckily for the company, people never really understood that EPCOT was supposed to be a real city, not a theme park. Company management told Imagineering to drop whatever it was doing and come up with something that could be passed off as “Epcot”. Eventually two separate theme park ideas- Future World and World Showcase were combined to create Epcot Center. Sadly, Walt Disney’s dream of EPCOT would never come to pass.
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Walt Disney Productions has always employed extremely creative people. Walt Disney used to let his animators and staff use company time to engage in their own creative pursuits. Even if they didn’t produce something that was used in a film, Walt felt that it would keep creativity flowing in his studio. Occasionally, it might lead to an actual project. One such brainstorming session led to possibly bringing Don Quixote to the big screen. The classic book, written by Cervantes, was seen as a perfect followup to Pinocchio.
While extensive character designs were drawn up and a script written, World War II intervened and the project was one of the casualties. It was brought back later in the early 1950’s, though it was envisioned as a smaller budgeted film with reduced animation. Even this project eventually got scrapped due to another project known as DISNEYLAND. Could a Disney version of Don Quixote ever make it to the big screen? The Little Mermaid, which was released in 1989 had originally been proposed in 1939- as a follow-up to Snow White.
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Walt Disney always had a soft spot for his greatest creation- Mickey Mouse. Many people who knew Mr. Disney personally have stated that Mickey’s boundless energy and positivity was definitely inherited from Walt himself. When Donald Duck began to steal Mickey’s thunder, Walt sought to find larger scale projects that he could use to reignite the mouse’s career. Various proposals came and went and even continued long after Walt passed away. After the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the Walt Disney Company sought out projects that could further expose its classic characters to younger audiences in new projects. One such project was Swabbies.
Swabbies was supposed to feature Mickey, Donald and Goofy joining the Navy. An odd choice, considering that this was supposed to appeal to younger children. Our heroes go to basic training, working under an exasperated Pete. Along the way, they meet their female counterparts- Minnie, Daisy and Clarabelle. The film was supposed to end with a tense stand-off with the Beagle Boys, who would be portraying vaguely Russian characters.
Production began in the late 1980’s with the film targeting a 1989 release. The film would not use the more advanced animation, so it was seen as being something that could get a fairly quick release. For various reasons it fell by the wayside and never got completed despite being fully recorded and storyboarded. The film’s production got so far along that it could probably still get an eventual release.
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On June 23, 1963 Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room opened at DISNEYLAND. The revolutionary show was the first example of audio animatronics, a Walt Disney breakthrough that would eventually lead to the realistic Mr. Lincoln and Pirates of the Caribbean animatronics.
The attraction began life as a restaurant concept. The idea was that guests would be brought into the room and begin having their meal. They would then see the show as an enchanting finale. DISNEYLAND had even signed Stouffer’s as the restaurant sponsor. Practically at the last minute, the decision was made to scrap the restaurant part since it was felt that it could not have enough capacity to be profitable. Additionally, Mrs. Disney reportedly questioned whether guests would be willing to eat food while sitting under a flock of birds. The tables were removed and the chairs were arranged in a square around the attraction’s centerpiece. The only remnant of the room’s original restaurant setup that exists today is the cabinet under the centerpiece, which was originally custom designed to hold coffee supplies. Today it is used to store DISNEYLAND Maps that castmembers handout to guests who ask for one.
Another element of the original setup that was removed was the Barker Bird. Perched high above the Adventureland entrance, the animatronic was originally supposed to announce when the next Tiki Room show would begin and tell jokes to guests. Voiced by Wally Boag, who performed at the Golden Horseshoe in nearby Frontierland. The Barker Bird created huge traffic issues at the entrance of Adventureland, so he was eventually removed. The birds still perform daily in Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
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It seemed like a can’t miss project- a family film produced by a re-invigorated Disney partnered with Steven Spielberg, directed by Robert Zemeckis and featuring state of the art technology. The highly anticipated film based on the genre bending book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? had the greatest of pedigrees and seemed like a surefire hit. That was before George Lucas decided to produce one of the first major films based on a Marvel comic book- Howard the Duck which similarly appeared to be a project destined for success. Of course, the film became a legendary disaster, sullying George Lucas’ reputation and losing tons of money. Through no fault of its own, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? already had one strike against it because it was seen as being a similar film.
Prior to the beginning of the film’s production, Disney thought it had already jumped over the production’s biggest hurdle by convincing Warner Brothers to loan the use of its Looney Tunes characters to the film. Despite industry gossip about the film being the next Howard the Duck, Disney pushed ahead with the production. The studio’s biggest worry at the time was that filming for the live action sequences had to push forward before anyone could see if the special effects looked realistic. Would filmgoers be dazzled by this fantasy Hollywood where cartoon characters interacted with humans or would they laugh the film out of theaters?
As production started to wrap up, the company began promoting the film as a Walt Disney Pictures release in early trailers. The film’s more adult themes and the risk of the movie becoming another disaster like Howard the Duck made the studio skittish. The Disney name was removed from the film and it became a Touchstone Pictures release. The studio still put its promotional might behind the film though its licensing partners were annoyed that the movie would be released under the Touchstone banner. For better or worse, the film would be released June 22, 1988.
It turns out that the surefire hit actually was a surefire hit. Audiences fell in love with Roger, Jessica and Eddie. The special effects dazzled filmgoers who made the picture the number one movie of the year. The company quickly regretted not putting the Disney name on the film and Roger Rabbit spawned a licensing bonanza. The biggest honor given to the film was making its attraction the centerpiece of DISNEYLAND’s Mickey’s Toontown. A series of shorts were produced, though dissension between Disney and Spielberg made Roger Rabbit projects near impossibilities. With the current warming of relations between the two organizations, Roger Rabbit might just defy the odds and make his way back to the big screen.
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One of the rarest types of pictures from DISNEYLAND in the 1950’s and 60’s is of interiors. Since each photo had a cost involved, both in film use and developing, many tourists chose to only take exterior pictures that were assured to come out correctly. Interior pictures might not develop correctly, so most people wouldn’t take the risk. (After all, in those days they most likely wouldn’t know if the picture came out until after they were back home.) So what did the loading areas for the Fantasyland dark rides look like? Below, we see the boarding area for Snow White’s Scary Adventures.
Apparently, the women who operated the attraction dressed like Snow White. As you can also see, there were less safety gates at the time and it looks like the male ride operators wore shirts and ties. In order to save money, the attractions had less theming that consisted of painted scenes from the film. In 1982, Walt Disney’s original Fantasyland plans were built out, with more elaborate loading areas and European village theming added.
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